Eight-year old Valerie loves multiplication and books about dolphins or dogs. An Honor Roll student at Padrón Elementary in northeast Austin, she hopes to be a veterinarian. Her mother, Ibeth, works as a bookkeeper for a small company, and does not receive health or dental benefits. She purchased insurance for herself and her daughter through the Affordable Care Act, but last year their dental insurer unexpectedly dropped them. When Valerie’s school sent home a slip announcing St. David’s Dental Program was visiting her daughter’s school, Ibeth felt a weight lift from her shoulders. This visit meant that Valerie would receive free dental care, no matter their insurance status. “Valerie is . . my everything!” Ibeth says, with unrestrained pride.
During Valerie’s dental visit, x-rays and an exam revealed four cavities, and she was afraid and anxious of what would happen next. The combination of Valerie’s nerves and the extent of the care needed proved more than could be provided on the dental van, so she was matched with a local dentist through the St. David’s Complex Care Program, a network of dentists who partner with St. David’s Dental Program and agree to see high-needs patients at no cost to the patient.
When Ibeth and Valerie arrived at the dentist’s office, they were surprised. “It was so clean and nice,” Ibeth recalls. “They made Valerie feel so comfortable.”
“I got to watch a movie,” Valerie excitedly recalls, “and when they were done they said I could go get a toy from the treasure box!”
Ibeth is deeply grateful for the free dental care Valerie received. She learned that her daughter’s teeth are prone to cavities, even with careful brushing and flossing. This spring when the St. David’s Dental Program returned to her school, a cavity was spotted. Valerie was able to be seen on the dental van, where her teeth were cleaned and she received a tooth-colored filling.
With the largest fleet of mobile dental vans in the country, St. David’s Dental Program delivers dental exams, digital x-rays and more to students in six school districts across Central Texas. Each of the nine mobile-home-like vehicles is equipped with dental exam rooms and staffed by licensed dentists, hygienists, and dental assistants. Students from families with low incomes receive care at school for free.
“Most of our parents work minimum wage jobs,” says Rafael Soriano, principal at Padrón Elementary. “St. David’s provides care that some students’ families couldn’t afford,” he adds. “And since the bus comes to school, students do not have to miss class and parents don’t have to miss work and lose wages.”
Valerie overcame her fear of the dentist. “You don’t need to be scared,” she says with youthful authority and a big smile, “because they are just trying to take care of your teeth.”